Glove damage brings early end to station spacewalk
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: August 15, 2007
Making a routine inspection of his spacesuit gloves, a recently implemented safety procedure because of damage found after a December shuttle flight, astronaut Rick Mastracchio spotted a small hole in one of the outer layers of his left glove, prompting mission control to order him back to the space station's airlock as a precaution.
Mission control commentator Kyle Herring said Mastracchio was not in any danger and that his suit was not leaking. But the flight rules require a return to the airlock if any penetration is seen.
As it turned out, Mastracchio and fellow spacewalker Clay Anderson were in the final stages of a planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk, running well ahead of schedule. Despite the early termination of Mastracchio's excursion, the astronauts accomplished all of their major objectives and the only task left undone was the retrieval of two space exposure experiments. They will be collected during a future spacewalk.
The suit problem cropped up around 3 p.m. when Mastracchio was asked to check his gloves. The periodic checks are a now standard part of every NASA spacewalk after damage was seen during a December shuttle mission.
"Before we get too far, let's get a glove check on you," spacewalk coordinator Tracy Caldwell radioed from Endeavour's flight deck.
"OK. My left glove looks clean and unchanged in terms of RTV damage," Mastracchio said, referring to the outermost layer of the glove. "A lot of the (garble) I picked up is kind of gone. The right glove... ah, there might be a little more RTV missing between the thumb and forefinger but the Vectran looks... a little bit of RTV, just a small dot of RTV missing on the middle finger. A very small piece."
"OK, TC, I'm at the transponder, I'm just trying to figure out how I'm going to attack this," Anderson chimed in, pressing ahead with his own work.
"You take your time, Clay," Caldwell replied.
"There might been a little bit of RTV damage on my right thumb," Mastracchio continued. "Just kind of looks like a, I don't know, like a scratch, a couple of missing threads maybe, I don't know."
A few moments later, looking at his left glove again, Mastracchio reported "I do have a little bit of a hole in the Vectran."
Vectran is a widely used, manufactured fiber noted for its strength, flexibility and tolerance to extreme temperatures. Vectran is the second of five layers of material making up an astronaut's spacesuit glove.
Examining his glove, Mastracchio said "I can actually see shiny metal fibers underneath it, I see the surface under the Vectran, in other words."
A few moments later, after examining the glove via television, astronaut Shannon Walker in mission control told Mastracchio to head back to the Quest airlock module.
"Tracy, we need Clay to stand by," Walker said. "And because we do have a hole in the Vectran, we're going to have to terminate Rick's activity today. So we need him to head back to the airlock and do the terminate procedure in the checklist."
"OK," Mastracchio replied, sounding disappointed. Later, back in the airlock, Caldwell asked how he was doing.
"I'm fine," Mastracchio replied. "Looking out the hatch. Wishing I was out there."
Anderson, meanwhile, completed the transponder retrieval and then joined Mastracchio in the Quest module.
The spacewalk, the third of four planned for Endeavour's mission, began at 10:37 a.m. Riding on the station's robot arm, Mastracchio removed an S-band antenna assembly from the P6 solar array truss atop the central Unity module and moved it down to its permanent location on the P1 segment of the lab's main solar array truss. Anderson installed a new transponder and signal processor as part of an S-band communications system upgrade.
Flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston then verified the electrical connections and activated heaters, saying the equipment appeared to be operating normally.
The astronauts then moved two equipment carts from the port, or left, side of the robot arm's mobile transporter, to the right side. The transporter and the so-called CETA carts move like a train along tracks on the front face of the solar array truss. The carts had to be moved to the right side of the transporter to permit the robot arm to reach the left-most worksite in October when a visiting shuttle crew plans to move the stowed P6 solar array segment to the left end of the power truss.
Mastracchio and Anderson were wrapping up that work when the glove problem was reported. After joining Mastracchio in the airlock, Anderson shut the hatch and commander Scott Kelly began airlock re-pressurization at 4:05 p.m. for an official duration of five hours and 28 minutes.
This was the 91st spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998, the 14th so far this year, the third for Mastracchio and the second for Anderson. Seventy two men and women representing the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Sweden have now logged 562 hours and 57 minutes building and maintaining the international lab complex. The Endeavour crew's total through three spacewalk is 18 hours and 13 minutes.